Flatiron Books: The Guest Book by Sarah Blake

Stella Maris and Other Key West Stories

Stella Maris, Michael Carroll's follow-up to his debut short story collection, Little Reef, offers more tales set in the sex-drenched city of Key West, Fla. One story narrator sums up the city's appeal: "The town is full of strangers with their stories, all horny mostly. Key West is sexy-ish." Among the characters are aging gay men dealing with illness; young gay tourists bored with their surroundings and their choices for sexual partners; and the eternal war between waning and raging libidos.

Many of the same characters appear in several of Stella Maris's eight stories, creating a strong tapestry and community. One such character is Perry Knight, an esteemed gay writer with a rapidly dying readership. "His first crop of readers had died of AIDS a while ago," writes Scott, his younger husband. "Now old age was hacking away with scythe precision at their survivors, but only those who still read." Scott is trying to finish a memoir about their life together but fears revealing too much. In the story "Key West Funeral," numerous people attend the funeral of a former Marine and beloved drag queen and compare conflicting notes on the man they knew. In "Stella Maris, Star of the Sea," a man who has recently lost his wife starts to make tentative moves toward accepting his homosexuality and carnal drives.

Carroll's spare but evocative prose cast a haunting spell. Although death and dying is the uniting factor in all of these tales, there's still humor, passion and desire simmering below. --Kevin Howell, independent reviewer and marketing consultant